Thursday, 17 January 2008

Chapter Eleven - His-Story And Her - Story

[Photograph by Fosco Maraini, from Japanese web-site.
Showing ama pushing the wooden tubes out to sea before they begin diving.]

In our politically correct world, the only people who appear to get away with sexist behaviour are Paleontologists, Anthropologists, Archaeologists and Historians. They are still able to refer to the whole of the human species as ‘man’, and totally ignore women. Even in science programs on TV they are able to give out their scientific theories as facts, only mention men and barely mention the contribution women have made.

It is not for nothing that feminists refer to history as his-story. There is a strong male bias in history and all the theories of prehistory. It would be hard for this to be otherwise, if you examine his-story.

His-story starts off about 5-6 million years ago with an ancestor very much like the modern day chimpanzee. In wildlife programmes that inform the public on the latest scientific research, the bonobo is hardly mentioned, but we receive a lot of information about chimpanzees, as they live in male- dominated communities. It has been discovered that chimpanzees hunt and kill smaller primates for food, so the impression is given that chimpanzee are carnivores. It is also emphasized that male chimpanzees fight wars with each other. This is a controversial point among Primatologists. Most of this behaviour was observed at Gombe National Park. Back in 1960 when Jane Goodall began to observe chimpanzees at Gombe, she found no evidence of extreme violent behaviour by the male chimpanzees. It is true she saw male chimpanzees charge and threaten each other, but she saw little evidence of actual violence. Yet as time went on, the behaviour of the males became more and more violent. It seems that when Jane Goodall first came to Gombe there were few humans living in the same area. But over time human habitation ended up completely surrounding the park. In addition, chimpanzees came to be regarded as, ‘bushmeat’ and many were hunted for food.

Other primatologists in other parts of Africa have claimed that they haven’t observed the extreme violent behaviour of chimps that is now commonplace at Gombe. It has been suggested that the stress of human beings encroaching on the chimpanzee’s territory, and the fact of being hunted for meat is making these chimpanzees very violent. The problem is that for filmmakers, chimpanzees getting on well with each other are boring; they prefer the drama of chimpanzees that hunt and fight each other.

So films of the stressed -out chimps at Gombe makes far more ‘interesting’ viewing. The problem is that if the public is told that the chimp is like our distant ancestor, and its behaviour is only shown at Gombe, then it justifies the notion that humans are naturally violent. Also, ignoring the behaviour of the bonobo gives the public the idea that male dominance is also ‘natural’ for human beings. To explain how this chimpanzee-like ancestor evolved into a man, we are presented with the mighty hunter theory. The general public never gets to hear about the dispute surrounding this theory so the idea stays intact of the killer ape that became more intelligent than other apes through his hunting skills. In all these theories women are hardly mentioned at all.

When humans first arrived in America, at the official date of 12 thousand years ago, many of the large animals that lived there, like elephants, camels, horses, giant beavers, sabre toothed cats etc, all became extinct. So it was immediately assumed it was man who caused this. We had stories of man the big game hunter, killing mammoths and causing mass exstinction. A similar extinction went on in Europe, Siberia and Australia so again man was blamed. This confirmed the killer ape thesis; man the mighty hunter brought about mass extinctions in America, Europe, Northern Asia and Australia. The problem was that this didn’t happen in Africa where man first evolved. After all it was where man first learnt his hunting skills, on the African savannah, so why didn’t men cause mass extinctions in Africa as well? It could be that there was another reason why the animals become extinct.

In more recent times, as scientists have found out more about what happened during the last Ice Age and it has been realized, that these mass extinctions were more likely to happen through rapid climate change. As a result, men hardly get a mention in some of the latest research into the mass extinctions of the last Ice Age.

Then there is the extinction of Neanderthal man. It was known that modern man and Neanderthal man lived in Europe at the same time. So if Neanderthal man became extinct, then it must have been man the killer ape that did this. So we are presented with the drama of a brutal fight to the death between the two humanoid species with modern man coming out on top. The problem is, there is no real evidence for this, and again it has been realized that the Neanderthals also became extinct at a time of rapid climate change. So it seems that humans were able to survive these changing conditions but the Neanderthals didn't.
Then suddenly man became civilized about five thousand years ago. He changed suddenly from a brutish cave man and created sophisticated civilizations, like ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, overnight. The fact that the first civilizations happened during the Neolithic age is hardly mentioned. Since then we have had recorded history, but even in this, women still hardly get a mention. Everything worthwhile throughout his-story has been created and invented by man; with women are only good for looking after children.

So that is his-story, created by male academics. What we very rarely hear is her-story, unless you read feminist literature. Many academic feminists like Marija Gimbutas, Elaine Morgan, Merlin Stone and Barbara Walker have attempted to tell her-story but this is regarded as being a minority subject.

Her-story like his-story starts 5-6 million years ago, when the ancestor of human beings is a bonobo- like creature. This ape lives in female-dominated societies like the present day bonobo. It is able to defuse aggression and violence through sexual behaviour, and the women stick together in a powerful sisterhood. Like the bonobo, it lives near rivers and lakes and forages in water for food. This seems to be the behaviour of the Australopithecus, one of our ancestors, which lived in an environment like the present-day bonobo’s. This ape found that it could escape from predators by climbing trees or wading into water, but of the two, wading was much more unproblematic. Running into the water, for pregnant females or ones carrying small children would be easier than climbing trees. This is similar behaviour to the hippopotamus, which in spite of its large size doesn't feel safe out of the water and can be a dangerous animal if you get between it and water.

It is true some rivers have crocodiles in them but this is not true of all rivers in Africa. Surprisingly, not all species of river crocodiles are dangerous to humans. After a while, some of these apes will follow the river down to the sea and begin foraging on the seashore. Through millions of years of evolutionary time these apes will become more and more aquatic. Living both in wetlands and on beaches.

[Photograph by Fosco Maraini, from his book, Hekura, The Diving Girl's Island, of an ama diver sculling a boat out to sea.]

There will be times when they will over- fish the shallows and have to venture further out to find seafood. This will force them to duck their heads below the surface to reach food deeper than they can normally reach with their arms. In time this behaviour will result in these apes learning to dive below the surface of the water and to swim further out.

Even in tropical waters it is possible to get cold spending too long in the water, so apes with body fat around them will have the advantage of being able to forage longer in the water. Fur will become a drag while swimming, so apes with less fur will swim better. So evolutionary pressure will favour apes with less fur and more body fat. As females will find the water a safer environment than males, it may cause a division of labour, where females forage in the sea or rivers and males forage on land. This will be why females are more aquatic than males.

It seems that this ape thrived, living in the sea. From the sea it was getting the brain food to develop its brain. Wading most of the time forced it to learn how to walk on two legs all the time. As the females became more aquatic and learnt how to swim out beyond their depth, it was possible for them to collect more food than the males foraging on land. These apes living on the coast would need a supply of fresh water and where there wasn’t a nearby river this could be provided by coconut milk.

With the increase in brain size this ape began to use its brain. Early tool use probably came with breaking open shellfish and coconuts with a club or stone. Woman divers, in digging out shellfish from rocks underwater, would use digging sticks. An early method of catching fish came with using fish traps. These early humans would already find fish trapped in pools left by the outgoing tide. So to increase production they would dig bigger pools and block any channel that allowed the water to drain away in the outgoing tide and allow the fish to escape. In Australia, purpose built fish traps have been discovered, built by Aborigines and constructed with rocks. They also may have started to learn how to construct crude shelters.

Rafts were probably the first sea craft constructed. These would be very helpful for women divers, not only as a platform from which to dive but somewhere to put the food they are collecting from the sea. They might have been used to paddle out to offshore islands to find more food; if they over fished the areas they were living in.

One of the mysteries of understanding the way modern humans emerged out of Africa is explaining how they got to Australia before the first humans reached Europe, which is a lot closer. It has been suggested that modern humans took: “the scenic route out of Africa”. In other words, they followed the coastline all the way from Africa to Australia. For this to happen it suggests that the human population was thriving and expanding by living on the coast. Some may have moved inland and halted the process of becoming aquatic, because they still bred with coastal peoples. This would slow down the rate at which the race developed aquatic features.

On the other hand, an increase in population would also force some humans further out to sea. This is because the shallows would be in danger of being over fished, forcing women to make rafts and dive in deeper and deeper waters. In going out further from land, they would have to learn the art of seawomanship, as there would be times when wind and currents take them out of sight of land, and they had to find their way back. In so doing they will find islands beyond what they can see on the horizon. We know the art of seawomanship would have been learned as far back as 50,000 years ago, because modern humans had to be able to sail beyond the horizon to reach Australia.

Rafts are not the best way to paddle along and therefore there would be pressure to invent something better, either creating a primitive form of sail or learning to hollow out logs to make dugout canoes. Sometimes logs rot from the inside so by cleaning out the rotten wood a crude canoe can be created. This may be how the first dugout canoes were produced.

At this time women would be the dominant sex; this is because on the coast women, being more aquatic than men, would provide the bulk of the food for the tribe. So women would have a higher status than men, and perhaps like in haenyo communities of recent times, men looked after the children on land while the women worked in the sea. Even when some humans began to live inland, and adopted the gatherer/hunter lifestyle, women were still the main breadwinners. All over the world Stone Age people seem to adopt the roles of women gathering food and men hunting. (Though this is not always true; anthropologists have observed Stone Age communities where women do the hunting). Although in his-story the role of hunting is greatly emphasised, in the tropics hunting by men is not very efficient. Even when they invented sophisticated weapons like the bow and arrow, the woomera spear thrower and the boomerang, most hunts end up unsuccessful. Then the tribe is totally reliant on gathering by women for reliable and sustainable food. In many cases it seems that the hunting is more a sport for the men. In tribes in Africa men don’t have a lot to do, women gather the food, look after the children and build the huts. So men spend their time hunting or making war on other tribes.

This changed when humans began to venture north to the colder climates of northern Europe and Asia. In the cold winters there was little food to gather and the tribe became dependant on what food the men could hunt. This increased the status of men within the tribe, a factor that was to later change the course of human history.

This is probably what happened to the Neanderthals. It seems that they lived in a cold climate and survived mostly through hunting. Men became the dominant sex in Neanderthal society. This is confirmed by the robust nature of their skeletons, which showed them to be far stronger physically than modern humans, even though they were smaller in stature. Their strong build happened because the males competed with each other for sexual access to females and only the strongest males were allowed to mate.

The Neanderthal’s smaller size suggested that they weren’t being fed as well as the modern humans that also invaded Europe. Or perhaps the Neanderthal children were not being fed properly. If women were at the bottom of the pecking order of Neanderthal society, then they would find it difficult to feed their children properly. They would only feed when the men had sated their appetite, so the children having less food, were very unlikely to grow to full height.

Human civilization started in the Neolithic age, going back 10,000 years, though it could have started even before this. It was probably women who started civilizations because being the gatherers of the tribe; it would be they who began to plant the seeds that they gathered. What archaeologists have discovered is that these first civilizations were completely peaceful. They found no evidence of weapons of war, fortifications or images of violence. They also worshipped goddesses. No one knows when religion got started, but when human beings began to think of a great intelligence that created the world, they first assumed that it must be female, because the whole of human and animal life is created within the bodies of mothers. So they believed in a deity called the Great Mother who gave birth to the whole world. We find that ancient Neolithic civilizations created many feminine images of Goddesses.

Then about 5,000 years ago there was a big change. Warlike patriarchal tribes from the North conquered these peaceful matriarchal civilizations. Having no weapons or even any desire to fight, these civilizations were easily conquered. In the place of the Great Mother, the men introduced male warrior gods. This was the beginning of the patriarchal age, where men began to rule instead of women.

It seems that the patriarchal society took a long time to take root in human society. At first it would only be the rulers who were patriarchal, while the ordinary people followed their ancient matriarchal customs. Even the rulers were not immune to the influences of the female. In early his-story, marriage was unknown, so men had no way of knowing who their children were. This means that the powerful families who ruled early patriarchal civilizations still had to pass power and wealth down the female line. In ancient Egypt, for a man to become a Pharaoh, he had to marry his sister and in one case the Pharaoh had to marry his mother!

This problem was finally overcome with the introduction of patriarchal style marriage, where the wife was forced to remain ‘faithful’ only to her husband. In many societies, a woman could be executed if she had sex with another man besides her husband. Even today, in some Islamic countries, there are ‘honour’ killings where a husband has a ‘moral’ right to kill his wife if she is unfaithful to him, or even just disobey him. Though the husband still had the right to have sex with other women.
It seems that the last stronghold of matriarchy was the sea-people, who still followed their ancient practices because women remained the main breadwinner in these communities. Those that remain are a living link to our past, when women were important, revered and crucial to the well being of any society. We have forgotten that society can be anything other than male-centred, and in so doing, have lost sight of how peaceful, loving and cooperative a female led community can be. Mermaids point us towards our past, when we lived near water and adapted ourselves to it over millennia. They show us the strength and intelligence of women divers; their capacity to cull food from the sea. But they can also hint at the future, when capable, wise and matriarchal women could solve the problems of our male-dominated, violent and rapacious world.